Cohen’s succession

So now the PvdA has to choose a new leader. An unusual amount of names have been mentioned, which means there is no obvious candidate.


The person closest to being an obvious candidate is Lodewijk Asscher, alderman in Amsterdam and rising star within the PvdA. Problem is: he’s in Amsterdam, and not in parliament in The Hague.

Formally, Cohen needs replacement as chairman of the PvdA fraction in parliament. The only candidates for that function are the people that were on the PvdA party list in the 2010 elections, and Asscher wasn’t because he was leading the Amsterdam PvdA.

Thus he cannot lead the PvdA in parliament, and what the party needs above all is a charismatic and cunning parliamentary leader who can withstand the great enemy Wilders, as well as smiling, left-wing Roemer, whose SP is the most obvious alternative for PvdA voters tired of their party.

So the scenario that’s mentioned most is the appointment of a temporary party leader who’ll be replaced by Asscher a few months before the elections (officially slated in 2015, but it might be considerably sooner).

A nice conundrum. The PvdA needs a charismatic leader right now. If such a leader is chosen and proves to be a success, everybody will have forgotten Asscher by the time the elections come around. So it’s in Asscher’s interest to have an uninspiring leader, but that person will not stop the PvdA’s slow slide down.

So all in all I do not believe Asscher will be the PvdA’s next or next-next leader. Instead, one of the current PvdA MPs will be chosen.


To make matters more complicated new party chairman Spekman, who stands for a turn to the left into SP territory, and also for more internal party democracy, would like the new party leader to be elected by the members (and even PvdA sympathisers who are not members, it seems). That sounds great in theory, but it some say it might be unconstitutional.

The problem is that the constitution explicitly frees MPs from all ties: they can take every decision as a person, and are not beholden to anything outside themselves. In practice this is not an issue most of the time, but now it is. The PvdA MPs are free agents when electing the chairman of their fraction, and a binding referendum among PvdA members should not influence them. Thus the election, if it is ever held, will not be binding but will be “seriously considered” or something.

Complicated. And it detracts from the new-found party democracy.

Anyway, I will not give a list of candidates because it would be far too long and it would take me far too much time to check the chances of the twelve or so people currently being mentioned. When the list has been whittled down to three or four I’ll give an update.

Party identity

And this is just the leadership issue. What matters even more in the long run is that the party will have to decide whether to turn left or right. The current curious mixture of left-wing talking and centrist action must end.

The direct cause of Cohen’s departure is a leaked mail from MP Timmermans, who complained about the new turn to the left chairman Spekman is proposing. This was seen as the umpteenth proof of Cohen’s lack of leadership, and after one final meeting of the PvdA fraction Cohen decided to step down.

That doesn’t solve the fundamental question: should the PvdA remain where it is, in centrist waters where it bumps into D66 and the CDA, or should it fight for the soul of the left wing with the SP. Timmermans wants the former; Spekman the latter.

Now if the new PvdA leader were to be a clear proponent of one of these two strategies, the party’s position would at least become a lot clearer. Unfortunately it’s quite unclear where most of the rumoured candidates stand on this issue.

In the best case, the PvdA will find a new identity. In the worst case, the new leader will be a compromise candidate who will try to strike a balance between the two wings: a balance that’ll likely favour the centrists because they’ve been in charge for so long and because current parliamentary tactics require the PvdA to at least appear ready to support government on issues such as the euro crisis. Since Wilders rejects the current European policies on these matters, Rutte is forced to shop for a majority with the opposition.

So all in all I guess I’m pretty skeptical about a turn to the left for the PvdA. It would be the best solution, but too many people have vested interests in the current situation.

On the other hand, if the PvdA doesn’t turn left it’ll be squashed in the next elections.

<— Cohen steps down | Party profile — SGP —>

This is the political blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer, in Amsterdam. It’s a hobby blog where he follows Dutch politics for the benefit of those twelve foreigners that are interested in such matters, as well as his Dutch readers.

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